[Marrakesh soundtrack. Caravane]

We were ready not to like Morocco. We were led to believe that this dusty land of camels and palm-trees and tagines and mint tea would be far too overwhelming and full-on; that we would be constantly harassed due to blonde hair and blue eyes; that we would be ripped off at every turn; and that every moment would be a challenge. So we set our expectations low. Our experience could not have been more different. So in love with this place, from the moment we stepped off the plane to the sad moment it was time to leave (after already changing our flight once to spend a few more days), that we are already making plans for our next visit…very soon.

Morocco is a kind and beautiful country. Unlike its neighbors Paris or London or Rome, where there might be hundreds of obligatory tourist attractions to visit, here – Marrakesh itself - is the main attraction – the architecture, the confusion of colors, sounds and smells, the markets, the people, the food, the music, and the mosques. The smiles of the people here, our favorite things. From the smells of mint and smoke, to the never-ending baskets of fresh berber bread and tagines and couscous and olives and spices, to the beautifully restored riads and the labyrinthine souks (plus the magic you find at the end of each one), getting lost, and getting found again, the pinks and antiques, the shopping (the rugs…oh, the rugs), the dusty side streets and changing landscapes, the call to prayer, the dual French and Arabic languages, and the music. Marrakesh is a city full of hidden treasures. There is a magnetic energy here; a sense of limitless creativity. An energy that will completely suck you in.


Starting in Marrakesh…we also spent some days by the ocean (in Essaouira), and in the Atlas Mountains. Jaw-dropping scenery and changing landscapes. Here are some of our favorite things…




La Sultana Marrakesh

One word. WOW. This hotel renders us utterly speechless. This is by far and away the ultimate in opulence and luxury. An architecturally stunning collection of riads (five in total) – this is a chic and extravagant sanctuary, full of traditional woods, marble and copper, gardens, fountains and swimming pool - all within the Kasbah. With only 28 rooms and a gorgeous pool, the feeling here is one of luxurious privacy. We were lucky enough to enjoy two nights in the Jaguar suite – a beautiful and spacious suite with two terrace balconies (overlooking the pool), and deep marble spa bath, a study, living room and huge bedroom as well – fit for a king. The stunning rooftop restaurant offers magical panoramic views over the Royal Palace, the Koutoubia Mosque and out to the snow-capped Atlas Mountains in the distance. La Sultana also has its own spectacularly beautiful hamman, where you can enjoy balneotherapy baths and spa treatments. Only 10mins from Marrakesh’s airport – this is absolutely the most opulent and enchanting place to stay in the medina. Exceptional friendly service as well. Be sure to check out their magical coastal property as well – La Sultana Oualidia – an idyllic retreat overlooking a blue lagoon, swaying palms and the Atlantic ocean.

Riad El Fenn

This art-filled, luxury retreat – owned by Vanessa Branson - offers insanely beautifully colored rooms, a stunning terrace and delicious organic food. Book one of the pool suites (room 19 our absolute favorite)– complete with our favorite is room 19 (huge rooms, complete with private terrace, plunge pool, kilim-covered beds, hand-stitched camel leather floors and sun lounges. Also, artwork from Vanessa’s private collection). We also love colonnade room number 10, for its whitewashed turquoise walls. Its so very beautiful here.


Riad Madani

Through a battered wooden entrance you enter Madani. Once home to the Grand Vizier Madani El Glaoui, this palace was restored by a French/Brazilian couple. With only 15 rooms, it is a beautifully stylish and bohemian sleeping option. Mario Testino has frequently shot here. Enjoy the stunning mosaic tiles, antiques and intricate artwork. The building itself is set around lush, jungly courtyards. Amazing Berber feasts.


Riad Tarabel

A stylish and elegant riad with a French twist, hidden down the end of a tiny laneway in the old medina. With only xx rooms, this is a superbly intimate sleeping option. Slate-grey shutters, and arched glass doors, look over a beautiful courtyard filled with orange trees. Lovely living areas to relax in. Stunning antiques filling every corner. And a beautiful rooftop, and separate garden (under renovation when we visited in September).


Riad Le Coq Berbere

For only 35EUR per night, you will enjoy lovely hospitality by Italian owner Elisabetta (if she is there), and her equally lovely manager, Bashir. A lovely roof terrace, where breakfast is served each morning, and lots of cosy sitting areas. A great spot, right in the heart of the souks.



Hang out in Djemma el-Fna (the enormous main square of the medina) and be mesmerized by all the action. No other city is so utterly dominated by its main square. A chaos of snake charmers, performing monkeys (eek), henna tattooists, orange juices, live berber musicians and storytellers, and locals and tourists galore. All roads seem to lead here – and its not just for tourists, this is absolutely a local hangout as well.

Visit Riad 18: the brainchild of photographer Laila Hida, this hidden-away riad has been transformed into a contemporary art space. Hosting events and exhibitions, Riad 18 acts as a creative platform for artists to come to work, exhibit and perform. Beware though, there are three streets in the medina by the same name (we got seriously lost finding it!), so just check your directions first.

Riad Yima: the home and gallery of Morocco’s answer to Andy Warhol, Hassan Hajjaj. Known for his colorful pop art, Hajjaj uses recycled materials and turns them into different forms of artwork (coke-crate benches, recycled sardine can lanterns etc). We love this little den of color and surprise.


Be pampered: in a hamman, obviously essential on any visit to Morocco. We can vouch for popular Les Bains de Marrakesh, a lovely experience (if you like having bucket loads of water thrown all over you, and then being tossed around!). We went for ‘The Traditional One’: a 45min de hamman and traditional body scrub with black soap and kessa glove, and then a ghassoul body mask with plants. Following this, a 1hour draining massage. We hear the hamman at Mamounia is also fabulous.

Get lost in the labyrinth of souks: have endless fun winding your way through the myriad alleys that snake through the souks of the medina. With over 100 shops crammed into just 100 meters, you will find pretty much anything and everything you are looking for. Get ready to haggle. We love the leather, the rugs and the antiques. Explore endlessly, and enjoy getting lost. You will eventually find your way.

Be pampered: in a hamman, obviously essential on any visit to Morocco. We can vouch for popular Les Bains de Marrakesh, a lovely experience (if you like having bucket loads of water thrown all over you, and then being tossed around!). We went for ‘The Traditional One’: a 45min de hamman and traditional body scrub with black soap and kessa glove, and then a ghassoul body mask with plants. Following this, a 1hour draining massage. We hear the hamman at Mamounia is also fabulous.

Get lost in the labyrinth of souks: have endless fun winding your way through the myriad alleys that snake through the souks of the medina. With over 100 shops crammed into just 100 meters, you will find pretty much anything and everything you are looking for. Get ready to haggle. We love the leather, the rugs and the antiques. Explore endlessly, and enjoy getting lost. You will eventually find your way.

Maison de la Photographie: housed in a beautiful old three-story fondouk (or traditional inn), this wonderful museum, is located in the heart of the medina, and boasts one of the highest rooftop terraces in the medina. Founded by Patrick Manac'h, the Maison de la Photographie has a collection of over 8000 original photos documenting Berber life from as far back as 1862.

Visit the Palais el-Badi (the "incomparable" palace) to check out the Museum for Photography and Visual Arts.

Visit the Bahia Palace: for breathtaking Marrakshi-Andalusian architecture of the late 19th century, lovely Moroccan painted ceilings and a wonderful garden. This is a real treasure. Come here for some beautiful photo opportunities. Best in the morning light, for sun and shadows.

Visit the Jardin Marjorelle: a 12-acre botanical garden in the French district of Gueliz, and the former home and gardens of Yves Saint Laurent. Designed in the 20s by painter Jacques Majorelle, we love the bright cobalt-blue colors and the lovely colorful flowers and plants, as well as a small café and bookshop, and the Musée Berbère, with Berber art from Saint Laurent’s own collection.

Cooking course: we didn’t get a chance to try it ourselves, but we hear great things about Maison Arabe. Renowned as being Morocco’s finest cooking school - traditional female chefs (or dadas) lead the charge here, under the watchful eye of Dada Aziza. Try the lamb stew with ginger, cinnamon and saffron.

Buy a rug: with so many to choose from, making a decision on just one (or a few) will be hard. We don’t want to give away all our secrets, but if you come across a super sweet guy named Ismail, he’s your guy. Ismail and his brother are third-generation carpet dealers who have a small store located deep in the medina, and a beautiful bigger showroom as well. By appointment only.

Time your visit with the Marrakesh Biennale: started by Vanessa Branson (Richard Branson’s sister) in 2004, with a focus on contemporary art. The Biennale (which is held in Feb/March every second year - the next edition is set for 2016) hosts a number of art events across the city to encourage a more open art community, both locally and internationally.



Go bananas in the souks. Shopping here is like a sport. Be sure to haggle. Definitely start by halving the first price you are quoted, but then be sure to reach an agreement on something fair – remembering also, you are always free to walk away at any point (even if they try to lure you in with copious amounts of mint tea).

33 Rue Majorelle: opposite the Jardin Majorelle is this beautiful concept store. Showcasing emerging local designers, come here for beautiful jewelry (we especially love the antique Moroccan coin rings), homewares, art (by local artist Hassan Hajjaj), hats, books and clothes (cute kids stuff as well). Not cheap, but good quality.

Lalla: this cute store in Medina Souk Cheriffia was opened by French party planner and stylist Laetitia Trouillet (who previously ran a fashion business in London’s Portobello Market) in 2008. Famous now as the city’s personal shopper to visiting celebrities, Laetitia has her own label – Lalla – selling handbags, clutches with tassled zippers, and vintage clothes.

Bloom: a cute store in the spice market, just across from Café des epices. Bags, jewelry, kaftans and more.

Topolina (134 Dar El Bacha): we stumbled across this cute store by accident, on our way to Riad Tarabel. Designer Isabelle Lallemang uses vintage fabrics to “upcycle” dresses, kaftans, and bags.

Shop at the Beldi Country Club: bounce between ‘The Souk’ (selling carpets, embroidery, cushions and more) in a souk-like garden, as well as Beldi pottery (made onsite by a team of 7 potters) and a bakery where their bread is baked daily. Also, the Embroidery Association – which is a non-profit, to finance schools in the Atlas Mountains(Association Ecoles et Ateliers de l’Atlas) – buy handmade table clothes, cushion and household linen embroidered by hands. Lastly, we were blown away by the newest addition – a Beldi glass blowing factory. Watching the team of glass blowers, individually make each glass, bottle and bowl, was mind-blowing. This plant is the last one to produce hand blown glasses in Morocco (currently producing over 6000 glasses a day).

Mustapha blaoui: often described as ‘an Aladdin’s cave’, and a shop you should not miss on any visit to Marrakesh, this beautiful warehouse space is hidden behind big double doors in the souk and is jam-packed full of all kinds of wonderful things. Moroccan furniture, carpets, paintings, pottery and more. Come here for the color and inspiration alone.

Galerie 127: located in Guéliz, this gallery is owned by a Frenchwoman who represents international and Moroccan photographers.

To caffeinate (or for mint tea).


Do what the locals do, and hang at Café Koutoubia (Rue Fatma Zohra, R’Mila). This corner café – not far from the main square – is always busy (mainly with locals), and makes for some great people watching.

Café des Epices: a visit here became part of our daily morning ritual. Pop in for a quick coffee or mint tea. Run by the ever-charming and friendly Kamal Laftimi (see our Spotlight Series), this three-story café has a fabulous rooftop terrace with beautiful views over the Rabma Kadani (Spice Market). Perfect for a quick, easy sandwich as well…and wifi.


To Eat


Dates, dates and more dates…and drink mint tea (you will have no choice)…and enjoy freshly squeeze juice (the pomplemousse our favorite) from the Jamaa del Fna each morning from juice stall #44 (don’t make eye contact with the others stall holders though, they will have a juice poured and ready for you before you have had a chance to say thanks but no thanks)…snack on berber bread…and almond/honey cookies…and of course, eat couscous…like its Christmas….and tagines for days. The food here is one of our most favorite things.

Most (probably all) riads/hotels will offer breakfast – so get ready to dose up on berber bread, jam, pancakes, fruit, yoghurt and eggs. If you are wanting to break the routine, try Café des Epices (as above) for a quick and easy bite, or Kamal Laftimi’s other winner, the lovely green oasis that is Le Jardin. A beautiful spot in the heart of the medina, this shabby-chic garden café is, literally, a garden. Sit at vintage tables amongst the tropical palms and enjoy a healthy and fresh breakfast, lunch or dinner.

A casual poolside lunch at the Beldi Country Club: just 15mins (or six miles) from the medina, this shabby chic French-owned property is the perfect place to unwind. If not just for the pool and delicious poolside restaurant alone (non-guests can pay a small fee to spend the day). We were treated to a beautiful Moroccan feast on the day we visited. Stop by the Beldi’s luxurious spa for a hamman, or indulgent spa treatment. Wander the beautiful grounds, and do some shopping in their very own ‘souk’ (more details below. Its beautiful here.

Dinner in Djemaa el Fna: an absolute must. We once read that eating dinner here, in the main square, “can feel like an endurance sport”….a finish line however, that is definitely worth crossing. At 6pm each evening, as the sun goes down, a myriad of food stalls pop up in the square. Each and every one of them will fight for your custom. Choosing which stall will be the lucky one, can be hard, but we recommend stall number 14 (and many of our local friends agree). Here you will find the best and freshest fish, and also eggplant/aubergine dip, to be soaked up with fresh berber bread. If you are feeling slightly more adventurous, lash out and try one of the mutton stalls near the square’s center, where everything from sheep’s brain to skewered heart is sold (not for us though thanks!). Sit amongst smoke and gas lanterns and enjoy the organized chaos of this amazing nightly ritual.

Al Fassia: located in Gueliz, Al Fassia is owned and run solely by women. Come here for classic Moroccan home-style dishes (try the cinnamon-laced pigeon pastilla), which can be ordered a-la carte, rather than a set menu (as a lot of the menus have to be ordered here). Request a table on the outside terrace. Bookings essential. 

The La Sultana rooftop: for magical panoramic views over Marrakesh, in stunning surrounds - come here for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Nomad: having only opened two months ago, Nomad is already doing amazing things. We love sitting up on the rooftop here – with spectacular views over the Spice Market – and enjoying the still, the calm. The menu is our favorite in the city, best described as Modern-Moroccan. On arrival, you will receive spiced popcorn and chickpeas to your table. Service is spectacular – friendly and knowledgeable. And the menu is perfect. We were lucky enough to sample a lot of the dishes and can highly recommend the mezze plate to start, each of the salads, the lamb skewers, the fresh fish of the day, the lamb tagine, the chicken tagine and the salmon. It is all really lovely. You will definitely visit more than once. Oh and if not for the food, for the music. A lot of thought has gone into this playlist, and they have nailed it. A collaboration between Kamal Laftimi and New York-based restaurant designer, Sebastian Gzell, this is not to be missed.

Le Fondouk: for something more high-end, try Le Fondouk for a mix of Moroccan, French and Thai dishes…in a dark and moody riad. Try the rabbit pastilla or seafood tagine. Excellent local wines as well. Be sure to check out the beautiful roof top terrace.

Le Tobsil (22 Derb Abdellah Ben Hessaïen): also set in a restored riad, this renowned restaurant is known for its excellent food and service. Choose a seat in the plant-filled courtyard, or the upper gallery. A lovey atmosphere.

Cafe Arabe: come here for a relaxed, easy dinner if you are wanting a break from Moroccan food. Grab a seat in the lovely courtyard, under the orange trees, and enjoy Italian favorites (the owners are from Rome).


To Drink


For something fancy, head to the Marrakesh’s most famous (and expensive), lavishly restored hotel La Mamounia for a pre-dinner drink. Le Bar Churchill - named after its most famous patron – is where you will find the well-heeled set. And if you fancy staying on for dinner in the buzzy Moroccan restaurant here – the pigeon pie is a must. (Note: be sure to wear proper shoes, you will be refused entry in flip-flops).

Riad El Fenn: a drink (or dinner) on the rooftop terrace is a must.

Nomad: we recommend eating here, but if you just feel like a drink, either rooftop is perfect.

Kechmara: if you find yourself in the new town – Guéliz – pop into Kechmara. Owned by two Frenchmen, and located on a pretty Guéliz street, this is a perfect spot for coffee, lunch or cocktails. There is also a nice upstairs terrace – perfect for an afternoon drink.